They were always this exuberant, even before the Grammy win.
"We're going to go play another song, because we like music!" Arcade Fire leader Win Butler said that February night, trophy in hand, thrilled that he and his Canadian indie-rock band had just upset the Grammys (and made Barbra Streisand stutter) by winning album of the year for their third disc, "The Suburbs." Butler was like a boy being shown off at his parents' stuffy dinner party -- whatever, can I get back to my light-saber now? Arcade Fire suddenly had the world's attention, not to mention every music mogul in the Grammys crowd, but these jumpy kids-at-heart just wanted to play one more song.
That same innocent jubilance powers the band on its current victory lap tour. Fresh from a glowing performance last weekend at the Coachella festival in California, the eight-piece band returned to Chicago on Friday night for the first of three sold-out concerts at the UIC Pavilion (besting their three sold-out nights in 2007 at the much smaller Chicago Theatre). A lot has happened since Arcade Fire headlined Lollapalooza last August (where the National also preceded them), but little has changed on stage, save maybe the number of roadies and guitar techs. They're still a big, bombastic blast.
with the National
• 7:30 p.m. Sunday and Monday
• UIC Pavilion, 1150 W. Harrison
• Sold out
All three Arcade Fire shows sold out quickly. But if you didn't get tickets, you can still catch them this weekend. First, the band will sing the seventh-inning stretch at Saturday's Cubs-Dodgers game at Wrigley Field. Then, WXRT-FM (93.1) will broadcast Sunday night's performance live beginning at 9 p.m. Learn more at wxrt.radio.com/arcadefire.
They certainly do like music. They heap every song with baroque instrumentation -- guitar, drums, bass, but also two violinists, sometimes two drummers, players taking turns on guitars and keyboards, rushing around like a Chinese fire drill between songs -- and the ornate arrangements that come with that, often turning them into mini-suites. It can make for a big, joyous racket, but this band masters its dynamics. The middle of Friday's set slowed down with several songs featuring all eight players playing remarkably softly, holding down the sound, controlling the burn -- especially during "Sprawl I (Flatland)," which Bulter claimed they'd never played live before. During "Keep the Car Running," Butler (grandson of lounge-era bandleader Alvino Rey) played mandolin while his wife, singer Régine Chassagne, cranked a hurdy gurdy. The Waterboys called this kinder cacophony "the Big Music."
Certainly no one likes music more than keyboardist/percussionist William Butler, an on-stage frenzy with every instrument he grabbed. During "Rebellion (Lies)," he beat a hand drum so ferociously he lost the stick into the crowd but continued bashing with his fist. For "Neighborhood No. 2 (Laika)," his xylophone mallets went flying. He played an acoustic guitar during "Haiti" as if all our lives depended on it, and during "Neighborhood No. 1 (Tunnel)" (they do love their parenthetical subtitles) -- well, never has a tambourine been so vigorously and defiantly shaken.
The capacity crowd shouted and sang, cheered and whooped. This was an audience of fans who were answering, not asking, that post-Grammys question ("Who the @#$% Is Arcade Fire?!"). But the good news for indie-rock isn't just that the Grammys moment might turn some heads and sell some records ("The Suburbs" gets a deluxe reissue June 27), it's that all that attention is focused on this band -- a cheery, spunky, inherently welcoming bunch that loves making music for music's sake. As they prove on stage, their energy is infectious.
The National opened Friday's show with an intensity as restrained as Arcade Fire's exuberance was unfettered. "I won't be a runaway / 'cause I won't run," Matt Berninger sang in the band's opening song, a template for its slowly paced, spare, tense music, pinned under by edgy guitars and flecked with occasional horns. The moody tunes swelled and only rarely burst, when Berninger set down his wineglass and leaned into his mike stand. He tries to scream his beautiful-loser angst, but he just produces a dry, hoarse bark. He introduced "Abel," saying, "Here's an angry, loud old song." Most were angry, a few were loud.
Arcade Fire's Friday set list:
"Month of May"
"Neighborhood No. 2 (Laika)"
"No Cars Go"
"We Used to Wait"
"Sprawl I (Flatland)"
"Keep the Car Running"
"Neighborhood No. 1 (Tunnels)"
"Ready to Start"
"Neighborhood No. 3 (Power Out)"
"Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)"
The National's Friday set list:
"Baby We'll Be Fine"
"Afraid of Everyone"